Saturday, April 28, 2012

Europe's Resurgent Far-Right: "Same Politics of Scapegoating" (with a Catholic Footnote)

At Salon, Steve Weissman and Frank Browning report (as many other commentators in the U.S. and abroad are also reporting) that the far right is marching strong in Europe these days.  As the Anders Breivik trial unfolds in Norway, the media are paying renewed attention to the resurgence of a right energized by economic stress across Europe now.

I'm intrigued by several points Weissman and Browning (and others issuing similar statements) are reporting about this phenomenon of resurgent fascism in Europe.  One is the insistence of leading figures of Europe's fascist resurgence that they've atoned for their anti-semitism.  As the Breivik trial reminds us, the new menace, in the minds of the European right wing, is the Islamic world and the Islamic communities within Europe.  

But as Professor Nonna Mayer of the Paris Institute for Political Sciences tells Weissman and Browning, 

It’s the same politics of scapegoating that it always has been.  There’s no getting away from it.

With fascist movements, with the right in general in both Europe and the U.S., there's always the need to generate enemies, to target stigmatized minorities who must be regarded, these groups insist, as threatening outsiders who have somehow made their way inside the body politic and are infecting it from within.  As Mary Douglas tells us in her masterful book Purity and Danger, cultures are likely to imagine themselves as living organisms akin to a human body, and at periods of stress of one sort or another--economic fragmentation, rapid cultural changes--those threatened by the social or economic dislocations through which the culture is moving are apt to project fantasies about threatening "others" who appear ready to invade the vulnerable orifices of the cultural body and infect it.

And so the scapegoating, which is the one constant in the seemingly endless stories of targeting and attacking (and seeking to destroy) minority groups perceived as other, when the political and religious right face cultural and social transformations threatening to the right: what is constant is the ravenous need to frame someone as the enemy.  What shifts over the course of history and different cultures is precisely who happens to get targeted at the time.  As the classic historian of the witch-hunt craze in Europe in the early modern period, Hugh Trevor-Roper, pointed out over and over again, it's not precisely the identity of the specific group of victims targeted in these periods of history that matters.  They're interchangeable--a principle Trevor-Roper called "the interchangeability of victims."

And so, as he notes, witches were often executed in Europe wearing Jewish stars.  What matters is the need to find some hapless group of human beings regarded as less than human and as not quite one of us, to shove them from the human community, to craft and disseminate dehumanizing narratives about that group, and then go for the jugular.  

"It's the same politics of scapegoating that it always has been."

And so the claim that these movements are not anti-semitic is preposterous--particularly when one of the leaders of the current right-wing movement in France, Marine le Pen, who claims to represent a gentler, kindler fascism that recognizes its anti-semitic excesses of the past, is the daughter of a man, Jean-Marie le Pen, who dismissed the holocaust as "a mere detail in the history of the Second World War," and who made jokes about the Nazi gas chambers.  

Jean-Marie le Pen, who drew together an alliance of fascists, Vichy collaborators, and right-wing Catholics, and who began the shift of the scapegoating rhetoric (who began the trend of "kinder, gentler" fascism) by shifting his target from the Jews to the Muslims, announcing in 2002, 

Tomorrow, if you don’t watch out, they will take your home, eat your food and sleep with your wife, your daughter, or your son.

It's always "they" with these folks of the reactionary right.  "They" want to steal your hard-earned money, eat your food, invade your home, and rape your wife, daughter, or son.  "They" are dirty, devil-possessed,  infectious carriers of disease, subhuman.

"They" are never fellow citizens, fellow human beings, on whose labor an entire society depends for its well-being, whose cultural contributions to the cultural mosaic of a given society are indispensable.  "They" are the enemy that has made its way inside, and must be combatted, identified as dirty and diabolical, and destroyed.

As le Pen's story illustrates, too, wherever there is this rhetoric of the dirty other "they," there are Catholics.  There are least some Catholics, an identifiable group within the Catholic church that today appears to be rapidly becoming the center of gravity in the church as a whole, from the papal throne down.  Wherever there is the rhetoric of the dirty other "they," there are right-wing Catholics strongly represented. Wherever there is the toxic fascist script of the threatening other that must be destroyed before he eats up your food, invades your house, and rapes your wife, there are right-wing Catholics significantly represented in the wings.

All of which puts a certain complexion--should put a certain complexion--on the decision of the current papacy, which has frequently been criticized, and with good reason, for holding a soft spot in its heart for fascism, to welcome with open arms an openly anti-semitic schismatic movement. 

And all of which puts a decided complexion--should put a decided complexion--on the attempt of mealy-mouthed, principles-lite liberal apologists for the powers that be to spin the decision to welcome the Society of St. Pius X back into the Catholic church as a generally benign step dealing with a generally benign movement.

What anti-semitism?  Oh, that little matter.  Easily resolved.  A little sin for which they'll atone, naturally, once they're back in the fold.

And me anti-semitic?  How dare you accuse me of that?  When I've made it plain I'm a liberal Catholic who stands for liberal Catholic values.

Discuss racism, anti-semitism, Ayn Rand and her influence?  Preposterous.  What have racism, anti-semitism, or Ayn Rand to do with me?

Why do you keep wanting to bring up these uncomfortable enigmas that have nothing to do with anything?  Why do you insist on being malicious, when we have made plain that we stand for good, benign Catholic principles--and when the bishops with whom we stand do nothing but good for the poor, the outcast, the dispossessed?  When they are, in fact, the best friends the poor and vulnerable have?

Let's get on with talking about the real Catholic issues of our day, shall we?

An old, old story.  Empty liberals (and their empty center-right counterparts) talking about nothing at all, never admitting the grave problems like racism or resurgent anti-semitism right in front of their noses, colluding with those pushing these ugly scapegoating memes, until it's too late, and the targeted others have been shoved into the ovens.

And the process of atonement and the statements about having being duped and blinded have to be issued all over again.

But they never bring back the lives lost in the gas chambers (or classrooms as gay teens are bullied to death, etc., etc.).

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